Highlights from the APA panel discussion on presenting your work to the new-media landscape

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I took pages of notes at the sold-out APA/NY panel discussion at Calumet on Wednesday. Let’s just say there was a lot of meat on that bone. I’m going to serve it up in two separate posts.

Stella Kramer

The panel was unusually strong: Roberto De Luna, photo editor at Time Out New York; Joe Pritchard, a rep at Vaughan Hannigan; Alison Zavos of featureshoot.com; Alex Wright, co-creator of Dripbook; Erin Rabasca, head of art buying at R/GA (and, in person, a dead ringer for Neko Case); and music photographer Chris Owyoung, who is also a marketing associate at PhotoShelter.

The discussion was moderated by Stella Kramer, who expertly guided the conversation through subjects like iPhone portfolios, editing your work, Flash websites, and more. First batch of highlights below:

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Roberto De Luna

On showing your work on an iPhone

Stella wondered if photographers would be editing differently based on the platforms for which their work was destined. Roberto often needs photos that can work on both print and the Web, but he noted that he’s always looking for print quality, texture, and color.

Erin explained that R/GA often designs iPhone apps for its clients, so she and her fellow art buyers choose images based on the limitations and strengths of that platform. She also said she’d be open to viewing a photographer’s portfolio on an iPhone, but that she couldn’t make a buying decision based on that. “If that was the only thing that I had, I wouldn’t be satisfied,” she said.

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Chris Owyoung

Alex reports that people have told him they’ve gotten jobs through their iPhone portfolios and that, if nothing else, an iPhone portfolio is a way to show your work on demand, on the fly, and then you can follow up with the printed portfolio. “It’s better to err on the side of showing [your work]” if you happen to meet someone, he said, than to have nothing and potentially miss an opportunity.

On a practical note, the portrait view shrinks the landscape images to a barely viewable size, so “I gang all of the landscape images together and all of the portrait images together so that the viewer only has to turn the device once,” says Chris Owyoung. He also said that if you do opt for an iPhone portfolio, creating it is not as simple as dumping your pictures into your device. “You need to have a thought process and workflow that works with the platform,” he said.

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Alex Wright

There was talk of editing and of how photographers are, almost without exception, terrible editors of their own work. Joe joked that photographers will look at an image and remember how much fun they had during the shoot or how they met their wife on set, and they lose track of the purpose of the image in their book and how it functions with the rest of the work they’re showing. “You get emotionally attached to images,” he quipped, “that SUCK.”

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Erin Rabasca

Erin said that when she’s meeting with a photo and looking at their book, she’ll

ask them what they like to shoot. “Nine times out of 10, it’s the strongest image in the book,” she said. The lesson there is to shoot and show the work you want to get and not try to be something you aren’t. “Anything that’s forced does not work,” she said.

The generally agreed-upon number of images there should be, maximum, per portfolio: 15 to 20.

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Alison Zavos

Stella said she’d recently talked with a Sports Illustrated photo editor who told her she was not expecting to commission specifically for new platforms like the iPad, though imagery will play a vital role in the magazine’s use of those platforms. Stella noted that at the beginning of the tech revolution, when Web usage was the only concern, most contracts were written to include Web rights in the fee—as well as any usage for technologies that might be developed at any point in the future. A big yikes.

But Erin said it’s “always good” when technology shows photography as “the hero.” It creates demand and appreciation, and the higher those two things go, the more imagery is needed, and at top levels of quality.

Joe also suggested that these new platforms could represent a bargaining tool for photographers. If a magazine is available as an app that costs $3.99 per month, whereas a print subscription to the same magazine cost $15, then that changes the photog’s fee negotiation. It gives them leverage.

“All this technology is forcing people to think about things,” said Erin. “Their work, their worth.” She also said that most art buyers are not trying to “put one over on you, so ask questions. Art buyers want you to understand it. It’s critical that the photographer understand what the final execution will be. What [the client] will do to the image.” She, and the others on the panel, said it was important that photographers keep an open mind in terms of how their work is used and, frankly, will be altered to accommodate the needs of a new platform. “You need to throw away what you thought before,” Erin said.

“Technology is supposed to work for you,” said Alex, who acknowledged that it can be daunting. “Figure out the creativity first, and use the technology that’s true to you. If it’s not making your life easier, find the technology that does.”

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3 Comments

  1. Posted 01/30/2010 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    I’m really surprised to hear the advice is only 15-20 images for your portfolio. In the UK at least all of the commercial portfolios I’ve seen tend to be 40-50 images – which when you’re looking through the book fells about the right number to get a proper feel for the work. Are people in the US really showing books with so few images..?

  2. Posted 01/30/2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Erin Rabasca at R/GA mentioned 15 images. When I think of editorial I suggest 20-25 for a weekly, 25-30 for a monthly magazine. It all depends on where you’re showing your work. But here in the US I think people look at fewer images because they are so swamped for time.
    There are no set rules, so I’m sure there are other art buyers with different opinions.

  3. Kristina Feliciano
    Posted 02/03/2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, art buyer Anne-Maureen McKeating, of the award-winning ad agency TAXI, has also cited 20 as the maximum number of images to include in a portfolio. This excerpt is from a post (http://www.heathermorton.ca/blog/?p=4930) she contributed to Heather Morton’s blog, HMAb, today:

    “… a printed portfolio must also be a part of your marketing package. It should contain up to twenty examples of your best imagery. Pay attention to ordering and flow. You want the viewer to stop and engage with your work in a tactile, thoughtful and memorable way.”


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